Sho NakataWelcome to the new century. This is the century of Yuki Saito on the mound, and Sho Nakata at the plate. You have seen my blog Yuki Saito Watch by now, I'm guessing, but this is the coming out of Sho Nakata to an international audience. Let me introduce you.
Nakata was born on April 22nd, 1989 in Hiroshima Prefecture. He began his baseball career as an elementary school 2nd grader, and played catcher. By the time he had reached junior high school his reputation preceded him to the point that he started over his seniors, although only a first year player. This honor is only reserved for the most outstanding talent in the game. As a third year player in junior high school, Nakata was selected to the All Japan team and was awarded the privilege of representing his country at the Continental Amateur Baseball Association 15-Year Old World Series in the United States. He won the MVP of the competition and the US coaches remarked at the unreal talent they had witnessed in such a young man. From the August 3, 2004 edition of the NorthWest Herald(Chicago):
Already a top prospect in his country, Sho Nakata is a name to remember. His long-term goal? He wants t o pitch for the New York Yankees.
"He's special," Japan team advisor Fujio Seki said.
Already, Nakata's fastball has been clocked at 86 mph. It may be about 5 or 6 mph slower than the Seattle Stars' Cam Nobles, but Nakata's presence helped Japan to wins in its first seven CABA outings, including a 9-8 victory against the McHenry County Hurricanes on Thursday at Lippold Park. Propelled by Nakata's 17 hits, Japan was averaging 11.9 runs per game. Nakata also won both of his pitching starts, including one complete game....
After high school, Nakata is eligible for the top level of Japanese baseball. After a couple seasons there, Nakata wants to come back to the United States – and pitch for the Yankees.
"I practice every day," he said through the team's interpreter, Seki. "The whole year, I play baseball."
Nakata has flashed five-tool potential throughout CABA. His power – both on the mound and in the batter's box – is overwhelming. This is where the damage comes in. Nakata claimed the CABA home run derby Wednesday night, and he launched a first-inning home run against the Hurricanes that developed on a pitch Giesey called to be in a different location. On the first fastball he faced, following three curves, Nakata raised the plane of his swing, connecting on a three-run shot to right-center field.
As a first year player at Osaka Toin High School, Nakata was relegated to the bench. His ballclub made the final four at the Summer Koshien in 2005 and he contributed several big hits along the way. Last year was his big chance. As a second year player, Nakata hit cleanup and both pitched and played right field. He had grown to a healthy 183cm(6 feet) and 94kg(207lbs) and was a force all over the field. He reportedly benches 105kg(231 lbs) and squats 240kg(528 lbs), and can run a 6.2 second 50 meter dash, which seems slow for a track athlete, but very nice for a power hitting right fielder. As a pitcher, Nakata topped out at 151kph(94mph) and proved to be an imposing presence with a curve, slider, and palm ball in his arsenal. As a hitter, he is the most fearsome force in Japanese baseball at any level. Well, he may have some things to work on to rate him that highly compared to his professional seniors, but the ceiling is unlimited. In the 2006 Summer Koshien, Nakata hit a 140m(459 foot) line bullet to the left center field back screen against Yokohama High School. Unfortunately, in the second game of the tournament, Osaka Toin was matched up with the bulldozing Yuki Saito of Waseda Jitsugyo and young Sho fanned three times in four unsuccessful at bats against the ace.
In the 2006 Kinki Regional Fall Tournament, Osaka Toin managed a strong 2nd place finish and Nakata was a monster. In a quarterfinal game against Ohmi High School, Nakata blasted his 65th career home run, passing PL Gakuen legend Kazuhiro Kiyohara for 3rd place in Japanese high school baseball history. Kiyohara is still clinging to a professional career at the age of 39, with 525 home runs and a Hall of Fame career behind him. He rounded first and threw up a "guts pose", pumping his fist. Against Ichikawa High School of neighboring Hyogo Prefecture, the eye-popping outfielder launched a 1-2 slider 560 feet, which left Kimiidera Field, traveled over several houses, and landed in an irrigation ditch! His 66th career home run merited a special certificate from the stadium owner, showing his appreciation for the unprecedented feat as no ball had ever traveled remotely so far in the long history of the park.
Sho Nakata enters the 2007 season with a total of 68 home runs, tied with current Seibu Lions infielder, Hiroshi Hirao. Next on the list at 70 are Ryosuke Hirata, Nakata's Osaka Toin senior of two years and Chuinichi Dragons outfielder, and the Mariners' Kenji Johjima. At 74, SoftBank Hawks minor leaguer Ryuya Ina sits in 3rd place just 15 behind the two players tied for second place with 83, Takeya Nakamura (current Seibu 3B) and Ken Suzuki (aging Yakult infielder). Current Seibu reserve outfielder, Hiroyuki Oshima is the all-time leader with 86. It only seems a matter of time before Nakata holds that record with a two year average of 34 home runs, and only 18 ahead of him to tie Oshima. Oops. Make that 17. On March 12th, playing on the grounds of Osaka's Daito City Stadium, the Toin slugger crushed the first pitch of his first at bat in the first inning against Kyoto Ryoyo High School sending a high line drive over the left center field fence. Number 69 in his storybook career, and with only 11 days to go before the open of the 2007 Spring Koshien Tournament.
I'll keep you posted on Nakata's amazing run. He has been scouted already by the Minnesota Twins and more recently by the Mets' scout Isao Ojimi who apparently posted a report to his bosses in Flushing about the slugger. Ojimi has also been seen in attendance at a few Yuki Saito practices recently. It is almost certain that Nakata will be a pro in 2008. The NPB draft awaits him eagerly, and I'm quite certain that he will be the #1 pick. If he wants to sign a deal with a Major League club, that's certainly out there as well, but I wonder if any of the teams across the Pacific will ante up as much guaranteed money as the Japanese teams. Stay tuned.